Reflection and reflective practice are important tools to enable professionals to learn from their own experiences. Although they are very similar and complement each other as part of a continuous learning cycle, there are subtle differences between them.
- Reflection: Where you critically analyse and evaluate past events by considering the actions, emotions and responses that happened. This provides new insights and adds to your knowledge base, giving you a higher level of understanding.
- Reflective practice: An approach in which you continually reflect but, in addition, use these new insights to inform your ongoing and future practice. The changes that you make to your practice will then lead to new experiences, which can be further reflected upon.
Whether you are a new or an established academic, finding time in the ‘whirlwind’ of teaching and personal tutoring can be a challenge due to the numerous demands placed on you by your students and the institution you work for. How often have you stopped what you’re doing for a useful and significant period of time and thought about your experiences in an organised way to make sense of them? Valuable thinking or reflection opportunities provide you with the chance to contemplate the aspects of your practice which you would like to change or develop; for example, whether something could work better the next time you try it.
With so many institutions focusing on student retention, progression and success, the role of the personal tutor is becoming more central to achieving student-centred strategy. As a consequence, the training and professional development needs of personal tutors is becoming increasingly significant, with a firm focus on developing skills and professional practice networks. Regular reflection can help you to develop tutoring skills, identify areas of interest and support training and professional development needs. Reflection also enables you to work through particular tutoring issues and also helps to recognise patterns of student behaviour, as well as identify themes for discussion with other tutors and colleagues.
In terms of your personal tutor role, the following key points highlight what reflective practice is and isn’t, as well as the expected benefits and challenges of undertaking this activity regularly.
- a time to think clearly, be honest and consider the facts of your chosen area of reflection;
- an activity which can be undertaken individually or with another person (for example a mentor or trusted colleague);
- a process which should be undertaken regularly, for example once a week;
- a skill which can be learned and honed;
- an activity which should be undertaken alongside other professional development activities, such as peer observation, training and work shadowing;
applying critical analysis to your reflection, such as:
- what actually happened (good and bad);
- what everyone’s feelings were at the time;
- what else you could have done or done differently;
- what you might choose to do differently next time.
- something you need less as your experience as a personal tutor increases;
- a waste of your planning and development time;
- an easy thing to do, because critically analysing yourself can mean asking tough, probing questions.
The benefits of reflective practice are as follows.
- It can improve your ability to view events clearly and more objectively.
- It can help you to respond more positively to difficult issues or problems.
- If carried out with a trusted colleague or mentor, it enables you to ‘offload’ any difficult or emotional issues in a structured, positive and supportive way (sometimes referred to as ‘supervision’ within other fields).
- It can reduce stress and feelings of anxiety.
- It can reduce feelings of isolation and combat a culture of individualism, particularly when undertaken with a trusted colleague and mentor.
- It can help you to identify your personal strengths and relative limitations and to gain new professional insights.
- It can improve your confidence, professional judgement and practice as a personal tutor.
- It creates a positive, continuous professional development cycle when undertaken regularly.
The challenges of reflective practice are as follows.
- It can be difficult to find the time to do properly.
- You may lack the experience and/ or knowledge to make sense of some issues. This could lead to you following the models more ‘mechanically’ and not reflecting critically or deeply enough to fully understand the real issue(s). Undertaking reflection with your mentor or an experienced, trusted colleague would help to mitigate this.
- As it requires a critical and honest approach, you could find that you view your areas for improvement as failures, instead of an opportunity to learn and develop. Therefore, resilience and a positive attitude is needed.
- You may fear that if you discuss your moments of reflection (such as examples of poor judgement) openly with colleagues, you may be jeopardising or damaging your reputation.
- The educational institution’s culture and processes may not actively support you and other personal tutors to be honest and open in your moments of reflection.